Air pollution is a silent killer

Air pollution is common in urban areas. 

What you need to know:

  • More than half the total world population inhales polluted air that puts their health, well-being and life at risk.

On September 7, the world celebrated the second International Day of Clean Air for blue with the theme “Healthy air, healthy planet” which emphasizes the health aspects of air pollution. Our attention is drawn to prioritizing the need for healthy air for all since it has become an issue concern.

More than half the total world population inhales polluted air that puts their health, well-being and life at risk. Air pollution, both outside and inside homes is a silent, sometimes invisible, prolific killer that is responsible for premature death. 

Yet this pandemic receives inadequate attention as these deaths are not as dramatic as those caused by other disasters or epidemics. Every hour, many people die after years of suffering from cancer, respiratory illness or heart diseases directly caused by breathing polluted air. The failure by government to ensure clean air constituted a violation of Ugandans fundamental right to a healthy environment, a right that is legally recognized by the Article 39 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.

People cannot avoid inhaling whatever contaminants are present in the air inside their homes or in their communities, or while walking to market places. 

Air pollution is everywhere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, and heating, as well as from industrial activities, poor waste management and agricultural practices. In Kampala, street vendors who spend a lot of time along major streets like Kampala Road, Buganda Road, Jinja road are disproportionally affected by outdoor air pollution caused by transportation.  Furthermore, women and children who spend a lot of time at home are also affected from indoor air pollution caused by cooking, heating or lighting with solid fuels and kerosene.

Air pollution is a preventable problem but there is less attention paid to it hence escalating its effects. The government has to abide by the legal obligations to ensure clean air, which is essential for fulfilling the rights to health, life, water and sanitation and a healthy environment. It is impossible to achieve the right to a clean and healthy environment if the environment itself is not healthy. ‘When the earth is sick and polluted, human health is impossible… to heal ourselves, we must heal our planet first’ said activist Bobby McLead.

Pollution tax should be put to use in establishing air pollution monitoring stations, research and pollution awareness campaign.

In the bid to fight this silent killer, government should ensure clean air and fulfil the right to a healthy environment as provided for in the Article 39 of the 1995 constitution of Uganda. This can be done by implementing the available regulations, policies and enforcing the laws against polluters to reduce emission level. 

There should be routine monitoring of air quality to assess the negative  impact on human health; assessment of various sources of air pollution should be done by the authority and the line ministries regularly to ensure compliance; Make information regarding air pollution publicly available, including public health advisories; establish air quality legislations, standards and policies; develop air quality action plans at the local,  national levels; implement the air quality action plans and if possible enforce the standards; and evaluate progress and if necessary, strengthen the plan to ensure that the standards are met. And finally, conduct massive awareness about the danger of air pollution, and how people can protect themselves from exposure.

Eddie Ojara,  [email protected]